It's my story: helping care-experienced young people give effective media interviews
Conflicting demands and hidden agendas
Young people will start to feel more confident in interview situations if they can get a sense of the demands and distractions of a studio interview, and also learn how to identify their own agenda. Identifying an agenda is simpler than it sounds and The Great British Breakfast exercise can help young people to clarify this.
This exercise is also a good way of getting young people to start doing interviews – but within a fun context. This exercise also provides opportunities for putting into practice some of the learning from the previous section, such as trying out anecdotes and examples to encourage the audience to picture, smell and taste the frying breakfast …
The Great British Breakfast exercise
This exercise can be tailored and adapted to different cultures. Just keep the focus of the exercise on a very clearly identified dish, such as a fry-up or its equivalent in a particular culinary tradition, one for which everyone will understand the key ingredients.
How to set this up
Split the group into two. Group A are the interviewees/guests and Group B are the interviewers. (If there are odd numbers you may need to become a part of Group B.)
Send each group to separate rooms, so they cannot overhear each other. Do not brief either of the groups until they are out of earshot of each other. (It is very important that the two groups do not reveal their ‘hidden agendas’ to each other. Avoid the expression ‘hidden agenda’ when you brief the groups as it is helpful if the young people discover this through the exercise itself.)
Brief Group B
Tell Group B that they are the morning presenter on a local radio station (you will need to explain that they will each be doing this exercise, so they need to imagine themselves as a multiple personality). The topic for this morning’s discussion is the Great British Breakfast and their guest is the local expert on the Great British Breakfast. This person has written books and articles, and appeared on television, cooking fried breakfasts.
However (and this is the ‘hidden agenda’ for Group B), this morning’s programme is being sponsored by the Sausage Corporation. So they will need to get in as many mentions of sausages as possible to keep the sponsors happy. If they do this then they will get an extra £1,000 in their pay cheque this month – if they don’t then they might lose their job.
Encourage this group to plan together the sort of questions they want to ask the expert on the Great British Breakfast – while at the same time making sure they get in as many opportunities as possible to mention sausages. Encourage them to think about the ingredients of a great fry-up and how they will make this sound appealing to the listener. Give them about 10–15 minutes to think about this.
Explain to Group B that at the end of the 15 minutes their guest will arrive and they will need to take them to the studio. Then, after an announcement about the traffic news, they will be ‘live on air’. They will have four minutes to interview their guest.
Brief group A
Tell Group A that they are experts on the Great British Breakfast (again, it may help to explain that as they will all be doing this exercise they need to think of themselves as a multiple personality). Explain that they have appeared many times on television cooking a proper fry-up. They have also written articles and books about, and are generally well known for their love of crispy-round-the-edge fried eggs, fried bread done to perfection, sizzling bacon and so on ….
Today is the start of British Breakfast Week so they have been invited on to their local radio station to talk about the Great British Breakfast.
However (and this is the ‘hidden agenda’ for Group A), they have just spent the weekend in Paris and they are now totally obsessed by croissants. This is all they want to talk about – especially as they are now planning a new cookery book called ‘A hundred things you can do with a croissant’. And they really are not interested in talking about fried breakfasts any more. But they are smart people and they realise that if they let the radio station know this before the interview starts then they probably won’t get a chance to talk about their new passion on the air ….
Encourage the group to plan the way they will handle the radio interview. What sort of questions do they think the presenter might ask? How will they handle these questions to make sure they are able to talk about croissants as much as possible? Give them about 10–15 minutes to think about this.
What you do while the groups are preparing
It is a good idea to listen in on both groups as they do their preparation, so you can be sure that they have understood the exercise, and so you can offer suggestions if needed. But you also need to prepare the room where Group B is working, to make it into a ‘studio’. Group together pairs of chairs facing each other but as far apart from other pairs of chairs as possible, so that people won’t overhear each others’ interviews too much.
Brief Group B again
Just before you fetch the interviewees from Group A tell the members of Group B that they must each choose a guest and take them to a ‘studio’ i.e. a pair of chairs. (If you prefer you can decide who will interview whom and tell the interviewer the name of their guest.) They should ask their guest how their journey has been and make them as comfortable as possible.
Explain to your interviewers in Group B that they are all working in the same building and the walls are a bit thin – so they may overhear other interviewers in the same building. Explain also that the technical staff have gone on strike so you have to hold up pieces of paper – or numbers of fingers – to keep them within the four minutes. You will tell them when they have only three, two and one minute left. You will also indicate to them when they have 10 seconds left to wind up the interviews.
Remind them that they must be ready to introduce their guest as soon as the traffic news finishes – and you will give them the cue to do this.
Bring the two groups together
Ask Group A to join Group B in their room and explain that they are now going to the radio station where the presenter will meet them and take them to the ‘studio’. Explain that all the interviews will take place simultaneously.
When Group B has taken their guests to the studio (i.e. their pair of chairs) give them about forty seconds to settle into their seats and chat a little. Then stand in the centre of the room, get everyone’s attention and say something like this, substituting your own local details for the words in bold:
And that was the Birdie Song by the Tweets … a timeless classic and one of my personal favourites … and now over to our traffic news … Reports are coming in of a lorry shedding its load of golden syrup on the southbound section of the M31 between junctions 10 and 11. Police are advising motorists to leave the motorway at junction 9 to avoid a sticky situation. And now back to the studio where today we are celebrating Great British Breakfast Week …
At this point you indicate to the interviewers in Group B that they should start their interviews.
Distract the interviewers a little bit
While the interviews are in progress, rush around the room holding up a piece of paper (or a number of fingers) to tell each of the interviewers how many minutes they have left. You might also hold up a piece of paper with the words ‘don’t forget the sponsors!’ so that each of the interviewers can see this. You also ‘wind down’ the interviews to finish on time. (Don’t worry that this means that some of the interviews will last a few seconds longer than the others as you can’t be with all the pairs at the same time.)
The aim of these distractions is to help members of Group B realise how many distractions there are for interviewers in the studio. This is a simple way of replicating the fact that, during a studio interview, most interviewers have a producer talking to them throughout the interview via their headphones.
Talk about what has happened
When all the interviews have finished, bring everyone back together. Ask the group:
- What did they notice?
- What was it like being the interviewer/interviewee?
- Which position – if any – felt the more powerful?
- What agendas have they spotted?
Try this exercise out with some colleagues first to make sure you understand how it works. It’s a lot simpler to do than to describe!
An example of the Great Welsh Breakfast exercise and discussion afterwards led by trainer Henrietta Bond.From media training with Voices from Care Cymru, commissioned by SCIE
The aim of this exercise is to help young people recognise that:
- there are always different agendas in any interview
- having a different point of view doesn’t make people enemies
- having a lively discussion can be enjoyable
- a good interview is usually a compromise between the interviewee and the journalist
- interviewing can be just as difficult as being interviewed
- when you are clear of your own agenda you feel much more in control!